needs more demons?

irreverent opinions on books

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Justine Larbalestier, Liar

08 Oct 2009 · No Comments

Larbalestier’s new book is hard to talk about while avoiding spoilers. But I had one good reason to buy this book that has nothing to with the contents: although its narrator, Micah, is a young woman who is half-black and wears her hair short, the original US cover design featured a long-haired white woman, mostly because the publisher felt that putting a woman of color on the cover would negatively impact the book’s marketability. Larbalestier’s fans raised a ruckus, and the publisher changed the cover. I wanted to make a point of buying the book on release day, just like I used to do with records, to validate the publisher’s decision and get the book that little upward bullet on the sales chart. I might not have been so eager if I hadn’t liked Larbalestier’s four previous young adult novels quite a bit — but I did.

Liar is darker than the other books. Micah is a compulsive liar, and the novel fundamentally revolves around the question of just how unreliable a narrator she is. The text clearly supports different interpretations of what “really” happened, and which — or if any — of Micah’s sometimes contradictory accounts are “true.” The novel’s structure is complex — it consists of short chapters, most simply headed “before” and “after” to identify their chronological relationship to a significant event.

There are two traps a book like this needs to avoid — one is when peeling back a layer of lies reveals something that strains the reader’s credibility or violates the book’s internal logic. The other is when the narrator’s unreliability passes a threshold beyond which the reader loses interest in what is “true” or “not true.”

For me, Liar danced right up to these lines — repeatedly — but never quite crossed either one. Micah remained a sympathetic (if damaged) character, and I stayed involved in the book. I could scarcely put it down, in fact.

needs more demons? adding demons would absolutely ruin this book.

Tags: l-author · l-title · young adult

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